Log In

Neutrality was the wrong position to take

I enjoy a return to living room furniture as much as the next guy, but “#getbacktothetable” was seriously flawed. The slogan, which became the knee-jerk catch phrase from both UNBF’s Student Union and Graduate Student Association (GSA), was been employed ad nauseum to demonstrate both associations’ neutrality during the UNB strike.

Why we even needed a hashtag is beyond me. This was not the Arab Spring. Personally, I don’t use Twitter because I find it’s impossible to use the verb “tweet” without it sounding like something you do to a vagina. But the real problem with “#getbacktothetable” was that it only operated under the guise of neutrality, while it was in effect entirely self-interested.

What both the Student Union and GSA were actually saying in their demands to get classes back up and running was, “We don’t care if the administration is correct and the university is on the eve of financial collapse. We don’t care if the professors have to teach in burlap sacks. All we care is that we can get the degrees we paid for so we can all go work in middle management at Target.”

The official stance of both associations was as “neutral” as a boy sitting on Santa’s knee screaming that he doesn’t care how much those elves have to work, he wants it all.

Even if the stance of the Student Union and GSA was truly neutral (which––I really can’t stress this enough––it wasn’t), a stance of neutrality was incredibly ineffective. Neutrality took away all the pressure that we, the student body, could have been putting on either AUNBT or the administration. If we did want the strike to end, which I assume we all did, neutrality was probably the least effective way at achieving that goal.

If UNBF’s major student organizations were to have publicly sided with the teacher’s union, the administration’s stone-walling of negotiations would have been seriously jeopardized, hastening their return to our beloved table. If we were to have publicly sided with the administration, AUNBT’s claims that they have the interests of the students in mind would have been revealed to be full of faeces, therefore hastening their retreat the aforementioned table.

Ironically, the one thing that neutrality achieved is that it allowed both the union and the administration to continue using the student body as a puppet, further entrenching each side in their idealogical assurances.

If the teacher’s union was to enforce a restriction on how much a professor may work outside business hours, wouldn’t we appreciate the administration supporting our objection? If the administration was to raise tuition despite evidence that the university is in a financially stable state, wouldn’t we appreciate (if not expect) our professors to stand with us in opposition?

I understand that the issues at stake in the strike were complicated and nuanced, and that it may be difficult to garner a consensus as to which side the Student Union and GSA should support. But we could have had a university-wide vote. If URec is allowed to send me an email every time adult swim is cancelled, surely it would be possible to widely announce a student plebiscite.

For the first time in a long time, the rest of Canada knew that we existed. Before the strike, I’d wager that most people in Toronto thought New Brunswick was an island. This was our opportunity to tell the rest of the country what we value. What we said is that we value ourselves; the rest was for the provincially appointed arbitrator to sort out.

Name your favourite Nobel Peace prize laureate. Chances are, that person didn’t win for being neutral, but rather for taking a stand and putting their values at stake. In other words, doing something.

By remaining neutral, or at least under the veneer of neutrality, both the Student Union and GSA squandered any agency that they at one time retained. By remaining neutral, both the union and the administration were allowed to use us as pawns, saying that we supported them because we hadn’t said otherwise.

What was our fear with taking a side? Did the Student Union and GSA actually think that there would be academic repercussions if we were to publicly support the administration? Furthermore, while characterizing President Eddy Campbell as a pre-Civil War land owner is one of my favourite pastimes, even I didn’t think that if we voiced our support for the union, he would make us all work eighteen hour shifts in his tobacco fields.

The only repercussion there would have been is that the next time the union and administration do battle in our university, both sides would work to gain our support, rather than just assume they have it or not care that they don’t.

Tagged under


  1. KenSpragg Reply

    That’s some nice 20/20 hindsight, but there were plenty of people out there saying *during* the strike “look beyond your own self-interest and take a side.”  We tried to tell the student body while it could have made a difference that treating the two sides as equally at fault was facile, and that it seemed like using the downtime to try and pick up a credit in False Equivalencies 101.  
    A lot of us also opined that the faculty was the right side to take, because their pay *was* demonstrably uncompetitive, and because an audit *did* find that the administration is squirreling away money in some hidden fund– and hiring more paper-pushers while cutting faculty, and jacking the president’s pay, and witlessly building poorly conceived and unnecessary facilities– while increasing tuition and crowing about budget shortfalls.

    So this isn’t a revelation that could only have been had after the fact.  It might not make a difference now, but if past is prologue then the student body should take away from this that in the next labour dispute– and as long as the university is run as a business, with management trying first and foremost to exploit its employees to make profit, future disputes are inevitable– you ought to use some of the critical thinking that an education is supposed to impart, and not take this lazy, selfish position of “we don’t care who’s right as long as we get our degrees on time.”

  2. StevoKay Reply

    The protest was to get both sides to return to the table as nothing was changing. It wasn’t about not caring or taking sides, if the two sides are talking then no resolution will be reached. The students were paying for a service both sides weren’t providing and both weren’t making efforts to resolve it. This whole article is pointless lol. The author missed te entire point of the protest and lost all creditablilty by being arogant.

  3. JulianRenaud Reply

    What I’ve learned over the years is that, at some point, you have to get off the fence and take a stand for what you believe. What I saw from the Student Union and the GSA in this matter is exactly what I would expect from people who are grooming themselves to be politicians: They used the kind of rhetoric that they calculated to offend almost no one’s sensibilities, but which ultimately did not accomplish very much.

    I think that the Fredericton IWW had a much better plan to address this issue. Had the Student Union and GSA adopted a similar strategy, the issue probably would have been resolved sooner, and with a better result for students and the future of UNB.

    More than anything, this strike was a missed opportunity. I graduated from UNB five years ago, and even back then, there were serious issues with the UNB administration. From what I’ve read, those issues have since gotten even worse. It turns out that UNB’s President, Eddy Campbell, is deliberately misleading students and the public at large about UNB’s fiscal situation in order to justify his ideologically driven policy decisions. The administration is hiring scores of new bureaucrats while firing scores of professors and slashing funding for every academic department. If this trend continues, UNB will become a top-heavy monolith of bureaucratic ineptitude instead of a University that emphasizes the importance of learning. This trend will not reverse itself. If UNB is going to be a viable, quality school in the long term — never mind this particular semester — these issues need to be addressed by pressure from the one demographic that can truly make a difference in this regard: students.

    Suppose the student associations had sided with the teachers and made it very clear that students are unhappy with the administrative problems that led to UNB having to undergo such disputes. The problems in UNB’s administration would have gotten a lot of publicity, and there would have been serious pressure to make some positive changes. Instead, due to the fence-sitting stance taken by the politicians-in-training, that pressure wasn’t there, and no substantial changes to the way UNB is run are likely to happen. As Ken Spragg already pointed out, future disputes are thus inevitable, because the systemic problems that lead to them are still there.

    By the way, it’s “ad nauseam,” not “ad nauseum.” Also, there’s an extraneous “been” in your first paragraph. Sorry, my old copy-editor instincts kick in from time to time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Banner 468 x 60 px